Paris Journal - 2003

In the course of a brief ten-day visit to France this Octorber (2003) Kathleen and I spent three very busy days in Paris. Given our history you can imagine that we focused mostly on sacred music and architecture. We were fortunate that our Hotel Ambassador was on the Boulevard Haussmann.  Besides being a block from the grand shopping temple of the Galerie Lafayette and Printemps we were also near to many points of interest. For instance, just down the boulevard is the Chapel of Expiation, a small edifice built over the spot where the bodies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, together with their Swiss guards, were dumped after their execution.  Their remains rested here for 21 years until the restoration of the monarchy.  At that time they were transferred to the Basilica of Saint Denis where the kings and queens of France are buried.  Saint Denis lies at the end of metro station that bears its name. Many tourists fail to visit it;  but it is well worth the visit: a huge edifice encompassing the entire history of France as far back asthe Carolinigian and Merovingian dynasties.

Just down the street from us is the Opéra Garnier (so named after its architect). It is a magnificent and pompous building from the era of Napoleon III. There are statues of the famous composers of opera, a ceiling by Marc Chagall, and crowned with  magnificent gold leaf.  Read more about the Paris Opera at

 (Web site: )

A short hop from the Paris Opera we arrive at the Church of the Madeleine.

The Church of the Madeleine (`web site:

(see a nice picture of the church at

Begun in
1764 this church has undergone many transformations. In 1806 Napoleon turned it into a Greek temple - the way it looks today.  With the restoration of the monarchy it became a church once more.  It is surrounded by 52 Corinithian columns.The grand organ which dates from the reign of Louis Philippe as well as the chancel organ  were built by Aristide Cavaillé-Col between 1848 and 1897. It was reworked after the first world war (1927), in 1957 by Roethinger-Bisseau, and again in 1976 by Danion-Gonzalez.  The most recent work on the organ was done in 1996 by Bernard Dargassies. 95% of the original organ remains intact. The four-manual instrument has 4426 pipes. Organists at this church over the years have inlcuded Fessy, Lefébre-Wély, and Théodore Dubois, (1827-1924) composer of the well-known Seven Last Words of Christ who was organist here from 1868-1871 when he succeded Cesar Franck at the Church of Ste. Clotilde.  He returned to the Madeleine to replace Camille Saint-Saëns as organist. Other organists and musicians associated with  the Madeleine were Dallier, Mignan, Jeanne Demessieux, Odile Pierre,  Achille Philip, Jean de Valois, François-Henri Houbert, and Jean-Louis Vielle-Girardet. Others who have played here are Gigout, Widor and Nadia Boulanger. Gabriel Fauré composed his famous "Requiem" for the Madeleine church as well.The titular organist at the Madeleine today is Michel Geoffroy. The church is the site of many concerts and seems to be a very vibrant parish.  There was a special event and liturgy for children the day we visited the church.

The Church of Saint Eustache     (

The Ducroquet-Van den Heuvel grand organ

I had never visited this huge church in the past. It is considered the most beautiful church in Paris after Notre Dame. It is pure Gothic save for its decor which is Renaissance.  The corner stone for the present edifice dates from 1532.  The facade was restored in 1754. It is alive with French history as well as a rich treasure house of  musical lore.  It dates back to the 13th century and the Gothic church as it exists today dates from 1532-1640. Since 1922 the Oratorian Fathers have ministered to this church.

Many famous personages in French history were baptized here including Cardinal Richelieu, the great playwright Molière, and Madame de Pompadour (Jeanne Antoinette Poisson).  The early Baroque composer, Jean Baptiste Lully, was married here in 1662.  Colbert, the finance minister of Louis XIV is buried in this church (There is a huge marble statue of him, 1683, marking his tomb in the church) as well as the composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau.  Also buried  from this church were La Fontaine. Mirabeau, Molière,  as well as Mozart`s mother. Saint Eustache was also the parish church of Saint Vincent de Paul for ten years.

Another great Baroque composer, Jean-Phillipe Rameau (1683-1764)  gave his last organ recital in this church. Berlioz conducted the first performance of his Te Deum in this church as well in 1855.

Franz Liszt rehearsed and conducted his Messe de Gran here in 1866.This event was one of the few great disasters of his  luminous career. A brilliant description of this fiasco can be found in Dr. Alan Walker's brilliantly researched chronicle of Liszt`s life. (Franz Liszt. Volume 3:  The Final Years 1861-1886. Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)

The Parisian public had been enthusiastic at the thought of seeing the famous Abbé in his black cassock, and he was feted and honored accordingly. But the critics were waiting in the wings for a chance to have at him. That he was  the greatest of pianists, they could not deny.  But as composer and conductor they readied for the attack.  The mass was sung during the course of a complete church service on March 15.  The 170-voice choir "left very much to be desired"  (women were not allowed to sing and their parts had to be sung by boys) and the 80-piece pick-up orchestra lacked any cohesiveness.  Furthermore  all kinds of extra-musical things took place during the singing and performance of the mass: the rattling of collection boxes, a large detachment of soldiers paraded about the church with officers barking commands throughout the music, "military drums rudely interrupted" the Kyrie and Credo, etc. Alan Walker notes that  since the mass was for charity the only consolation for Liszt was that 40,000 francs were raised for the schools of the district.  The critics had a field day reviewing this "chaos of horror," as vividly described in Walker`s book.

To his shame, Hector Berlioz could not bring himself as a local music critic to say one good word about Liszt.  He  refused even to take up his pen despite the fact that Liszt had done so much for him by introduing and conducting his works while he was still an unknown.

Today Jean Guillou is titular organist of grand organ of Saint  Eustache.  This five-manual 1854 Ducroquet instrument was rebuilt in 1989 by Van den Heuvel. (see photo).  The original Ducroquet  instrument was inaugurated by Cesar Franck.  The titular organist of the chancel organ is André Flury.  Both Flury and Guillou are disciples of Marcel Dupré.

Jean Guillou at the Ducroquet-Van Den Heuvel organ

Read about the organ at:

Notre  Dame de Lorette  ( }

We also visited this  neo-classic church dating from 1823-1836).  There we find another Cavaillé-Col grand organ. This church has a choir of 25-30 singers and religious concerts are given regularly. A recent concert offred was entitled "From Monteverdi to Duruflé." The parish also serves a Portuguese and Cape Verdian congregation.  There is also a Lebanese Maronite rite priest in residence and liturgies are offered in both the Maronite and Siro-Malabar rites. The parish also offers a St. Vincent de Paul Conference for the needy of the area.

La Trinité  (

The huge  Church of the Trinity was the brainchild of Napoleon III.  It was founded in 1867 and boasts a Cavaillé-Col grand organ that dates from 1869. Free  noonday concerts are offered every Thursday.  Olivier Messiaen added even greater fame to this church as its resident organist for 61 years.  Today the titular organist of the grand organ is Naji Hakim and that of the chancel organ is Carolyn Shuster-Fournier.

Saint Germain-des-Prés  (web site:

The oldest church in Paris was founded by King  Childebert in 542.  Although this Benedictine Abbey was sacked by the Normans four times in the 9th century some of the earliest sections dating from 866 still remain It was rebuilt in 1193 and destroyed once more during the French Revolution.  The tower of the church is the oldest in Paris, dating from 1014.  The church is in the heart of the Left Bank and is the site of great student and musical activity (including Christian rock and Gospel music)

Notre Dame Cathedral ( web site:

The organs of Notre Dame:  (web site:

Musical agenda of the cathedreal:  (web site:

The organs at Notre Dame:

The Gallery Organ of Notre Dame

The Gallery Organ (Orgue de jubé) has undergone various stages of development: The present-day case of the gallery organ dates from 1731 and was made by François Thierry, in 1883-1888 François Cliquot was in chage of the first restoration, Aristide  Cavaillé-Coll used many of the old pipes in his restoration of 1860-1867. More restoration was carried out by  Charles Mutin in 1904;  Jean Hermann was given the job of electrification in 1963 and Robert Boisseau succeeded him in adding news stops to the organ. There followed extensive restorations between 1989 and 1992 under the direction of Jean-Louis Boisseau.
The organ consists of 5 manuals with pedals, 110 stops. 153 ranks, 7000 pipes with electric and electronic action.

The  Chancel Organ (Orgue de Choeur) was installed in 1860 by Merkin and rebuilt by Robert Boisseau (1968) and extended by his son, Jean-Loup. in 1992. It has two keyboards with pedal, 30 stops and 38 ranks, 2200 ranks, with mechanical key action and electric stop action.

Some of  the famous organists of the past who have served at Notre Dame are:

Since 1985 Olivier Latry, Philippe Lefebvre,  and Jean-Pierre Leguay serve as organists of the cathedral.  The titulaire organist of the choir organ is Yves Castagnet.  His substitute is Pierre Mea.

While in Paris we attended litrugies at the cathedral three times.

Sunday morning International Mass at 11:00.  There was a visiting men and boys choral group from Germany that sang the liturgy. The cathedral was packed and there was good congregational response. The pace of the liturgy was unhurried, periods of silence with organ meditation were very prayerful.  I noted that every priest celebrant we encountered could sing beautifully.  There was a generous use of incense. Readings were done in English and German. The grand organ roared at the end of mass and I was able to film and tape much of the recessional.

In the evening we returned for a second mass.  Again the church was full.  The cantor was excellent, robed in a deep blue robe. The liturgy again was prayerful and properly paced. We noted that the congregation stood during the Canon of the mass.  This time a woman conducted the cathedral men's choir (about eight men). The chancel organ was used. They sang the Kyrie and Agnus Dei of the Mass for 4-part Male voices by Franz Liszt - (Szekszard Mass- 1859, revised 1869) a special treat for this lisztian.

Another weekday evening we returned for Vespers and a Eucharist.  Again the chancel organ was used.  In every instance the liturgy was perfectly celebrated, the music magnificent, and the acoustics a marvel.

These were moments of prayer and wonder that will remain with us forever.

ADDENDA from Brittany.

Two notes from Brittany. After an evening of music making and recording a spontaneous CD in the home of Joseph Peron (I had inadvertantly mailed home all my music to limit the weight of my return flight).  I was then called upon to play the organ at the Sunday litrugy in the parish church of Quiberon in Brittany (Morbihan) where I had stayed as a student during the summers (1953-1958).
The pipe organ there (I  couln't find the name) had been purchased from a church in Luxembourg. It had two manuals and spoke loudly.  Fortunately the good Father Le Petit played for the congregational parts of the mass on an electronic organ nearby.  I was desperate to find something for Kathleen to sing during communion and we came up with the ingenious idea (I think) of setting the words of How Great Thou Art to the Londonderry Air. This in order to avoid singing "Danny Boy" in church. I could play the tune my heart and it fit in nicely in the Celtic ambiance of Brittany.  At the end of the mass I cut loose with the Breton National Hymn (which is the same tune as the Welsh National Anthem).  This I could play by heart.  Well, the entire congregation did not move at the recessional and began to sing the anthem with full voice in Breton.  They stayed for two whole verses and applauded me vigorously afterward. This has never happened to me in my life and will remain a great memory for me till I die.

One other musical footnote. While visiting the town of La Trinité sur Mer, in the parish church (quite near the home of Jean Le Pen, right-wing leader of the Front Nationale) we found some folks rehearsing for a splendid wedding (the couple was from Paris). What was on the menu?  A prelude, Dixit Dominus by Vivaldi; a wedding processional, Marche Réligieuse aux Prêtres,  by Gluck; Kyrie from Missa de Angelis; Magnificat (Taizé); Ubi Caritas (chant); Dominus Deus by Vivaldi; Laudate Dominum of Mozart; the familiar Breton hymn, O Rouannez Karet an Arvor  (a piece I once published in English as "Enter, O People of God"); and,  as a finale, the Toccata from the Fifth Symphony of Widor.

Not bad for a small Breton village.